Friday, November 13, 2009
Arrival in Santiago!
It was still raining and misty, so Inge and I took our time getting going - it had been a bit of a restless night as people came in at all hours of the night at the albergue. When we left and walked down to get a cup of coffee, we met Anne Marie and Paulette - poor Paulette was sick, and could barely stand upright. She thought it might have been the food last night, or maybe a stomach flue. There was no way she could walk to Santiago today, so Anne Marie was going to get her back to bed, and then hope she would be better by tomorrow. I sure hope so, to be so close, and still there is no guarantee! We never now what the next moment will bring!
The walk in to Santiago was not particularly pretty, even less so in the rain - the usual ugly suburbs and outskirts of an old city; but with the big, beautiful Cathedral placed in the middle of the lovely "old town" of Santiago de Compostela.
Right as we were walking up one of the narrow streets towards the Cathedral somebody called out my name, and I turned around - there was Jane, whom I had met during the very first week of my Camino! We had shared the dubious pleasure of sleeping on the floor in Zubiri. What a wonderful, unexpected surprise! We hugged and were both so happy to have reconnected! The magic of the Camino is just mind boggling! - Jane was on her way to the bus to go back home, after having walked to Finisterre and Muxia, which she said was a stunningly beautiful walk. That's why she was still in town! To think that she would walk out of the store, right when we were walking up to the Cathedral was just so amazing! We exchanged emails, and she pointed us to were she had stayed - a nice, private albergue where we could get private rooms for 20 Euros, and be within 5 minutes of the Cathedral, and right in the center of the beautiful old town.
We made a mental note of the direction, then I hugged Jane goodbye and Inge and I walked the last few blocks up to the Cathedral. It was enormous and beautiful, even in the rain! We walked into the Cathedral and looked around to get our bearings - it was so huge, and full of people, pilgrims and tourists milling around. - We found the line for Saint James, and went slowly up the stairs behind the big, golden statue. When I reached him, I put my arms around him, looked out into the cathedral from there - I was behind the altar and the big statue, looking down over the interior of the Cathedral. I said my heartfelt "Thank you for watching over me on the Camino, allowing me to complete my long journey in good health. " I had walked 750 km to get to this place! No illness, no major health problems, lots of fantastic experiences, and wonderful new Camino friends! I was so grateful at that moment tears came to my eyes.
Afterwards Inge and I walked through the Cathedral and there we saw Nina, she had arrived yesterday! Big hugs were exchanged, and then out to find the albergue and get settled, so we could be back for the 12 Noon Pilgrim's Mass!
We found the Albergue, got a double room, put our backpacks down, and went straight back to the Cathedral, where it was packed by now; but we managed to find a couple of places, where we could squeeze in. I sat on a bench with a bunch of Korean pilgrims, some of whom I had seen along the Camino.
A nun came up to the pulpit about 5 minutes before the Mass started, and she gave us all a few singing lessons, so we could participate in the Mass. She was so sweet and encouraging as we tried to sing along, and her voice was absolutely amazing!
Then several priests appeared in their beautiful robes, and the Mass began with the announcement of how many pilgrims had arrived in Santiago the previous day, listed by country and starting point. I went to the Pilgrim's Mass again the following day and I heard that 2 Americans had arrived from St. Jean - of which I was one! It was pretty cool, I must admit!
It is still hard to believe I have walked 750 km, it didn't seem that hard, really. Of course, at the end of the day, my sore feet told a different story - they thought it was hard, the rest of my body not so much! I think the only part of you that does not get into shape, are your feet and your joints - the rest of the body gets stronger as you walk.
The Mass continued, and I was surprised at how much I did understand, even though everything was in Spanish. Basically the theme was, of course, the Camino, and how much it mirrors life. "Life is like the Camino, the Camino is like life. Your Camino is not over when you have finished the walk, your journey continues, as does the lessons of the Camino. It will probably take a long time for you to fully understand why you walked the Camino, and learn all the lessons of the Camino." Then there was communion, and finally they lit the giant censer know as the botafumeiro, which is a very special experience to witness. It only happens on special occasions (and if Japanese tourists have paid to have it lit!) It took 8 strong monks to swing it back and forth, while the organ played and the nun sang so beautifully! I was so grateful to be experiencing this fantastic, ancient ritual.
Really the reason behind the botafumeiro is not very spiritual at all, more practical. In ancient times when the pilgrims arrived at the Cathedral, sometimes they slept on the balconies, and all of them had been walking for months, not with facilities as we have today, so they quite literally stunk to high heaven, and the incense of the botafumeiro was to alleviate the stench! There you have it!
Afterwards Inge and I went over to find Nina, we hugged and congratulated each other again, and arranged to meet for dinner that night. - Then we went out to find the office where we could get our Compostela, certifying we had indeed completed the Camino on foot! That is what the Pilgrim's Passport is there to prove, and that is why you need at least one stamp from an albergue, church or similar place each day. The Passport is also what entitles you to stay at the albergues, because they are specifically for pilgrims on foot, or on bicycle, even though not all of them take in bicyclists. The albergues are very cheap, from free/donation to about 10 Euros for a bed, many of the municipal albergues only charge 3 euros for a night. You can only stay one night at an albergue, because, of course, you are on a pilgrimage, and supposed to be walking on towards your goal, Santiago.
After asking a few times, we found the office, and soon Inge and I were armed with each our Compostela. Then we went in opposite directions, and I found a place for lunch behind the Cathedral, then I walked to the albergue. First I had a hard time getting oriented in the narrow streets, but then I walked into the Cathedral and found the exit from where I knew the way, and soon I was walking in the right direction.
I rested after my shower, and soon it was time for Inge an me to go out to meet Nina and Esther, who had arrived that afternoon after a long walk through the rain. I was so happy to see her - last I saw Esther was in Sarria, where she stayed behind to rest her leg, which was giving her a lot of trouble at the time. The rest had helped, and she made it to the finish, and here she was all smiles!
We had a lovely evening speaking Danish, German and English, talking about all our wonderful Camino memories, and about all the friends we had made along the way!
As I walked home I ran in to Australian/Scottish Kate - she was in the same albergue as I, but she was not ready to go home yet, it was party-time for her!
It was a busy night - Saturday - and it was hard to sleep with the open windows to the street - the Spanish are definitely a people of the night, and the streets didn't quiet down until morning, when it was time for the street sweepers to clean the streets of Santiago!
Nevertheless, I enjoyed not having to get up and pack my backpack, it was nice to sleep in a bit!
When I got out to go to the Cathedral, I went for a coffee, and learned that the time had changed overnight, so I was an hour early - no need to rush! It was a perfect, sunny morning!
I met Nina outside the Cathedral. We could not get in yet, because they had morning Mass, so we walked around a bit, and Nina told me that both Vihar and the 2 Canadians Anne Marie and Paulette had made it to Santiago also. Soon after Vihar turned up, and I was elated to see her again. She had also arrived Saturday, but somehow we had not seen each other. Then Paulette and Anne Marie appeared, so good to see them both. Today Paulette had her color back, smiling and rosy cheeks! A far cry from her pale appearance yesterday at Monte del Gozo, where she could barely keep upright! At least they got to walk in to Santiago in the beautiful sunshine, since the rain had passed overnight, and it was a lovely day!
When I walked in to the Cathedral for the Pilgrims' Mass I was thrilled to meet Ilona again, and we sat together and got to see the botumafurio in action again. Fantastic!
After the mass and our happy reunion, Nina, Ellen, Inge, Vihar and I went to lunch together, and there we met an interesting lady from the Czech Republic, who had walked all the way from Prague to Santiago - 5 months, and over 2500 km in protest against the poor living conditions for the older generation, whose pensions have be decimated, and barely allows them to survive. She was 63 herself, and had left Prague with only 120 Euros; but along the way people had been supporting her, and now she had a website, and money was coming in, so she has been able to make it all the way to Santiago, and have enough money now, for transportation back to Prague. She told us that especially on her way through Germany people had been extremely generous towards her, and now she was curious what the reception will be once she returns home. She told us she would possibly be arrested, for what I do not know. Anyway, she was a brave lady, and several of us gave her a 5 or 10 Euro note, and big hugs and thumbs up!
That evening I met with Inge, Anne Marie and Paulette for dinner, and we had a great evening, before we had to say goodbye!
Since I had not been able to make any progress on my change of airline tickets,which was for the following week, I had decided to take the bus to Finisterre now that the weather was nice. Before meeting the others for dinner, I had walked to the bus station, to be sure I could find it in the morning. I had run in to Kate and she wanted to go too, so we arranged to meet downstairs the next morning. I knew Ilona and Vihar were going to Finisterre also, so no doubt we would run in to each other again, I thought, before I fell asleep.